Scaling conservation innovation

Photo And Art Panda (generated with AI) / Adobe Stock
15 January 2024

Cristina Chaminade is a professor in Innovation and Sustainability at Lund University (Sweden) and Adjunct Professor at Aalborg University (Denmark). With a robust background in economics (Bachelor's and Ph.D.) and postgraduate studies in Ecology and Conservation from Harvard, Professor Cristina Chaminade focuses on the intersection of sustainability, innovation, and conservation, particularly in the Global South. With extensive experience spanning over 30 years in innovative solutions for sustainable development and regional transformations worldwide, she advises prestigious international organisations like the European Commission, UNCTAD, WIPO, OECD, and UN-ECLAC. Cristina is the author of the recently published report "Scaling conservation innovation: the role of incubators and accelerators", where she explores the dynamics between innovation, conservation and systems change and advocates for strategies such as scaling out, scaling up, and scaling deep to drive transformative change within the conservation sector.

In the conservation innovation landscape, differentiating between incubators and accelerators has been akin to navigating a maze without a map. In my exploration detailed in the report "Scaling conservation innovation: the role of incubators and accelerators", I’ve come to realise that this distinction traditionally seen in business ventures blurs in the conservation sphere. In conservation, organisations tend to support ideas from inception to growth, instead of specialising in a specific step in the innovation life cycle, making it challenging to segregate roles as in traditional businesses.

This lack of distinction prompted the term 'innovation-enabling organisations.’ This term indicates a flexible approach in nurturing innovation from its early stages of conceptualization to full realisation, and it better represents the comprehensive support provided throughout the entire innovation lifecycle.

Pioneering Systemic Change: The essence of Transformative Innovation

At the core of innovation lies the potential for transformative change. What constitutes a transformative innovation, particularly within the conservation landscape, extends beyond mere technological advancements. It is about combining technological advancements with social innovations enabling new approaches to how people and the planet relate. It embodies a transformative force that reshapes existing norms, values, and systems. The report illuminates this essence, highlighting how innovation in conservation serves as a catalyst for systemic transformation.

Transformative innovation, in the context of conservation, is about restructuring mindsets, challenging entrenched ideologies, and fostering a paradigm shift toward sustainability. This is what we call transformative social innovation. Each innovation contributes to a broader movement aimed at systemic change. Scaling up, scaling out, and scaling deep emerge as pivotal strategies within this system transformation, each playing a crucial role in catalysing transformative impacts.

Scaling Up, Out, and Deep: Driving System-Level Transformation

Scaling up is the amplification of impact through policy advocacy and regulatory influence. It harnesses the power to enact systemic change by influencing governance structures, policies, and regulations, thereby addressing conservation challenges at a broader level.

On the other hand, scaling out transcends the boundaries of individual projects, focusing on disseminating knowledge and learned experiences. It fosters collaboration, sharing insights across diverse contexts, and promotes a decentralised approach to problem-solving, amplifying the collective learning process.

Amidst these, scaling deep represents a significant catalyst for transformative change. It delves into redefining core values, challenging prevailing norms, and reframing the narrative around conservation issues. While challenging, scaling deep is instrumental in effecting lasting systemic change.

Identifying Expertise and Catalysing Change

The report stresses the importance of focus and collaboration in effective scaling for conservation. Conservation entities often stretch across all phases rather than honing in on their strengths. It highlights that organisations should focus on their strengths rather than trying to cover all stages of the innovation life cycle (from ideation to growth), partnering with others to optimise resources more efficiently.

Innovation in conservation is relatively recent compared to traditional businesses. This means that what's happening now, in terms of individual organisations stretching the support that they provide to innovators in different phases, is part of a learning phase. Organisations often begin by nurturing ideas and then realise they need ongoing help, staying involved in different stages of innovation development. 

Understanding strengths in conservation innovation is vital for better collaboration with others who can provide support where needed. 

There's proficiency in scaling up and deep within the conservation sector, but scaling out remains a challenge. There's a pervasive fear that scaling out implies a one-size-fits-all approach— an assumption that merely involves copying and pasting solutions without due consideration for contextual nuances. Genuine innovation dissemination is not about copying and pasting solutions but rather about distilling lessons, understanding their contextual relevance, and sharing experiences to foster broader systemic change.

The essence lies in recognising that true innovation dissemination is a catalyst for system-wide transformation. It involves embracing diversity, learning from varied experiences, and adapting solutions to different contexts rather than imposing standardised solutions.

Revamping the Donor Ecosystem: Paving the Way for Collaborative Impact

When I consider bringing about system change in the conservation industry, I strongly advocate for a shift in mindset. I believe that transitioning from individualistic endeavours to collaborative consortiums could significantly amplify the impact of conservation innovation. This shift isn't just about organisational changes; it requires a complete paradigm shift in donor practices too—from focusing on individual attribution to prioritising collective impact.

The current donor structures unintentionally discourage collaboration. Donors inadvertently create a competitive environment among conservation entities by seeking measurable impacts solely on individual projects. This approach limits synergies and tends to prioritise individual success over collective achievements, ultimately hindering the potential for systemic transformation. 

It is therefore essential to pivot away from solely attributing success to singular projects and start supporting collaborative consortia aimed at creating systemic impact. I see a parallel between the existing structures in the conservation space and past research funding practices. Initially, research funding primarily supported individual universities or groups, resulting in limited impact. Eventually, a shift occurred, urging collaborative consortia that prioritised systemic impact over individual achievements. We must move away from providing singular support and start endorsing collaborative consortia dedicated to driving systemic change. This will also require that individual projects targeting consortia increase in funding size. I firmly believe that the true power of transformative conservation innovation lies not in isolation but in collaboration, shared knowledge, and collective action. And donors and other financial sources must support this change by evolving their current funding structures.

The ever-evolving conservation innovation landscape brings forth fresh opportunities and challenges. To delve deeper into the transformative roles of innovation-enabling organisations, the essence of radical change, and the strategies driving systemic transformation in conservation, the complete report serves as an invaluable guide.

For those eager to explore the nuances of scaling up, scaling out, and scaling deep, and to grasp the vital role of collaboration and adaptive solutions in driving conservation innovation for transformative change, the report provides comprehensive insights and practical perspectives.

The content of this insight piece represents the author’s own views and does not necessarily represent the views of Unearthodox.

Want to get in touch?

Email the project team at
Copyright  © 
 Unearthodox. All Rights Reserved.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram